Strange Grounds Coffee

On the third Monday of each month, the experimental outfit ANIMAL/object holds an avant-garde open-mike night at Strange Grounds. Here, though, "avant-garde" just means that performers are prized for their imagination and willingness to throw themselves into the music. There's often time at the end of the night for impromptu collaborations — and last summer, the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano (a recent Colorado transplant) decided to drop by with his violin and join the festivities.

Twist & Shout
Ken Hamblin III

It's not easy to get an in-store performance booked at Twist & Shout, and there's a good reason for that: These shows are almost invariably events you'll never forget. The store hosts cozy, living-room-style performances from big names (local and national) playing for shoulder-to-shoulder audiences full of excitement and focus. Check out Steve Earle's killer Twist & Shout performance of "Copperhead Road" on YouTube sometime, or just head down to see an in-store set yourself.

With an undying love for music and the intimate concert experience that often gets lost in the nosebleeds of the Pepsi Center and other large venues, Strings & Wood (stringsandwood.com) aims to bring concerts back to the living room — literally. Whether it rolls out in someone's home, the basement of a church or some other unlikely, intimate venue, the concert series brings local and national acts together for the dual purpose of providing audiences with unique shows and providing bands with ideal performing situations. Sitting on a cozy couch while listening to an amazing local singer-songwriter at a Strings & Wood show should be on every Denver music fan's must-do list.

Tucked away on Morrison Road is MGM's, a little club with big things happening inside. On Sundays, the place brings out the best in old-school hip-hop and R&B. The dance floor packs people in as everything from Zapp & Roger to SWV to Usher pumps through the venue's mighty sound system. Brand-new tracks get thrown in, too, so the hottest songs from Drake and Nicki Minaj make appearances throughout the night. The bartenders pour it up stiff, and everyone's a friend on the smokers' patio, if you need a break from the sweaty boogie madness.

Bar Standard

The intimate but spacious setup at Bar Standard is perfect for accommodating the people who pack the dance floor on Friday nights, when TheHundred brings some of the best tune-spinners on the planet to town. And that list is killer, with past headliners including Ten Walls and Classixx, Miguel Campbell and Kill Frenzy, Golf Clap and Doc Martin. Those are some notably big names to be playing this particular venue (alongside local staples who also know how to sling a beat), so you can feel smug about scoring a pair of tickets — and when you factor in the early-bird admission discounts that can get you through the door for as little as $5, you've got yourself a stellar club night that you can afford to hit up on a regular basis.

Readers' choice: Tracks

Eschewing the aesthetics of giant EDM shows, which have been increasingly popular in Colorado lately, Deep Club (deepclub.us) formed in 2013 with a mission to provide an alternative to those larger-than-life presentations. When you walk into one of Deep Club's "secret" events, the atmosphere is more laid-back, the emphasis is entirely on the music, and even when the event is held at an unconventional space, the sound system is robust. In 2014, Deep Club partnered with the Communikey Festival, which promises a great future in Denver for fans of more adventurous electronic music.

Carioca Cafe (Bar Bar)

If there is a sports-like farm system in the Denver music scene, Bar Bar (aka Carioca Cafe) represents a quality AAA baseball club. Bar Bar's inclusive and open mentality allows up-and-coming bands like Hellhound, Gravity Tapes, Gentleman Crow and Nixon's the One to hone their craft and play rowdy and well-attended shows any night of the week. The regulars may sometimes be a little rough around the edges, but the crowd at Bar Bar is still inviting and open to all Denver's bands, regardless of stature.

Lotus Clubs owner Francois Safieddine has had a long and successful history in Denver's nightlife, especially with more recent venues like Chloe and both ViewHouse locations. While Chloe is a stylish dance club/restaurant, Safieddine went a step further when he opened Vie in late 2014 at 1427 Larimer Street. Formerly Suite Two Hundred, the 7,000-square-foot space has been transformed into an ultra-chic dance club. Vie brings in local and national EDM talent and features state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems.

Readers' choice: Mile High Spirits

Beta

Beta has a downtown location and sizable dance floor, but that's not what makes it the best dance club in Denver. It's also got a slick, sleek layout and a large patio where smokers can congregate and watch the LoDo night unspool. Neither of those things turned our heads much this year, though. What really makes this club the best place to lose your mind to the sound of a beat are the Funktion-One sound system, widely regarded as one of the best systems on the planet, and a lineup of DJs and producers that increasingly showcases the top names in the entire business. So far this year, Beta has played host to Chris Liebing, Robag Wruhme, DJ Heidi and Claude Van Stroke, to name a few, and the club continues to feature local talent and offer side trips in the second room. (Don't forget to tip the bathroom attendants!)

Readers' choice: Beauty Bar

hi-dive

The hi-dive has brought in top-notch local and national acts for eleven years now — and while the lineup is a good part of its success (talent buyer Ben Desoto does a noble job), there's more to the venue's charms. Over the past two years, owners Matty Clark and Josh Terry, who bought the place from Matt LaBarge and Allison Housley, have made some upgrades (like raising the ceiling and hanging speakers from it) to give folks a better concert-going experience.

Readers' choice: hi-dive

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